Saturday 28 July 2012

FOE and Fever Fever at Hoxton Bar and Grill - 26 July 2012

FOE pic by Neil at Wildblanket

Fever Fever are delightfully grumpy.

The weather is too hot for them, and they are suspicious of the Olympics. These tribulations lead to much semi-comic muttering and swearing.

This is all par for the course with the Norwich three piece, who cultivate an air of exasperation and use the resulting energy to power their increasingly brutal and ferocious sound.

Rosie and Ellie rattle their way through songs that crunch and crackle with frustration. It’s recognisably rock but the vocal delivery is much closer to rap, a steady stream of words that form their own percussion.

There are no frills with Fever Fever. Everything is cut back to muscle and sinew and there is no room for light and shade. Their songs are shouty, straight forward and refreshingly honest.  They really don’t put a foot wrong.

There had been some confusion tonight as to whether there were going to be two bands or three on the bill. Various names are printed and advertised, but in the event the gap between the triumphant Fever Fever and the headliners is filled by an incredibly tedious DJ, who appears totally oblivious to the fact that there is no movement from the crowd whatsoever.

This is the third time this year that I’ve seen FOE aka Hannah Clark and her band, and for the third straight time I am confounded.

The first time I saw them they were game but a bit flat, the second time they were a thundering behemoth of rock noise and tonight…well they’re kind of all points in-between.

Clark is sporting a black cowboy jacket and shakes her tassels as she hangs off her microphone or swings her guitar. Her band take their queues from her and there is much whirling of instruments.

And yet, something doesn’t quite sit right. Clark is a fascinating performer in that she is constantly revisiting, rearranging and revising her songs. Just because a song sounded a certain way even a few months ago, does not mean that it will not be altered as her mood takes her. Sometimes this experimentation works, sometimes it does not.

Tonight the results are mixed.  It may just be that I was so impressed with the full on ‘rock’ FOE that I saw last time around that I don’t appreciate the more reigned versions of ‘A Handsome Stranger Called Death’ or ‘Genie In A Coke Can’.

It’s a perfectly enjoyable show, but my high expectations have left me rather disappointed, which is not Clark’s fault. The key point is that FOE are always changing, always interesting, always different. And that’s enough to keep me coming back.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Drop Out Venus at Somerset House - 19 July 2012

Charlotte Gainsbourg pic by Keith Knight

Call it fate, kismet or just a big, glorious smacker of a coincidence.

I have had a ticket for tonight’s Charlotte Gainsbourg show here in the grand environs of Somerset House for the best part of a month. I’ve been really looking forward to it.

Then suddenly, a couple of days ago, it was announced that the support act is going to be Call Of the Wyld faves Drop Out Venus. Frankly, this level of synchronicity should not be possible in a rational universe – but here we all are.

And tonight, in front of a large crowd who have come to see someone else, Iva, Chris and Ursula absolutely storm it.

The band are evolving so quickly at the moment that it is difficult to keep up. Confidence just flows through them. Gone are the days when they seemed nervous and vulnerable, tonight they are completely assured in what they are doing and confident in their material.

So the set is split between harrowing, soul wrenching quiet songs about alienation and death and faster, almost full throttle rock numbers (which also tend to be about death).

Iva Moscovitch is as focussed, spiky and unpredictable as ever, but she seems to really appreciate the bigger audience. She’s emotionally fearless and when her voice cracks during ‘Love And Desire’ it not only silences the crowd but seems to overwhelm drummer Ursula, who slumps across her kit.

The show is a triumph and the great reception that the band receives comes from the whole audience and not just us smitten fanboys down the front.

If Drop Out Venus trade in powerful emotion, Charlotte Gainsbourg and her band are the epitome of easy, elegant cool. They are all dressed in natty white clothes, Gainsbourg long and slim and sporting a pair of killer black boots that look like they could slice you to death.

Gainsbourg is abetted tonight by Connan Mockasin, who acts as band leader, confidante and Keith Lemon look-alike. He brings a fuzzy psychedelic edge to Charlotte’s Gallic pop and it makes for a smooth, groovy sound.

Gainsbourg is showcasing songs from her recent ‘Stage Whispers’ double album, so many of these tracks are unfamiliar. It doesn’t matter. I have a momentary frisson when she announces that a song has been written by Charlie Fink. However, this turns out to be the guy behind Noah And The Whale and not the erstwhile front man of Penthouse (aka Fifty Tons Of Black Terror).

 Although she does not have the strongest of voices, Charlotte compensates by being charming and relaxed. She has a gift for percussion and graduates through a succession of strange devices, including at one point something that looks like a coffee tin with a string hanging from the bottom.

This summer has been dogged by terrible weather, but tonight the evening is warm and dry and this balmy sophisticated music is just perfect for the occasion. The smooth tempo is broken when the band breaks into a surprisingly faithful version of David Bowie’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’. We all roar and get funk to funky for this one.

It must be said that the second half of the set…drifts a bit. There is one lengthy instrumental track that allows for my entire group to take turns slipping off to the distant toilets under Somerset House and to return without apparently missing anything.

This is a minor niggle. It’s a charming performance from a charming group of musicians. It’s been a fab night out and I am delighted that two acts that are so different from the run of the mill have been allowed to perform in such a magnificent setting.

 The summer starts here?


Wednesday 4 July 2012

Novella, Drop Out Venus, Clockwork Era at Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes - 3rd July 2012

Novella by Karen Toftera

I’m here at the Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes for a Gibson/Supajam promoted bill of happening new bands. 

The bowling lanes are in full effect, with the young and trendy hurling gutter balls, flattening pins and having a rare old time. There’s a deliberately retro vibe and the excitement and clatter is fiercely evocative of American Graffiti, Grease or any other 50’s film set.

In a small corner of the lanes a small stage plays host to the bands.

First up are Clockwork Era, who are really basic and spiky and shouty and very good fun. Singer/guitarist Jason is sweaty and feisty in a distressed Chapman Family T shirt. He flails at his instrument, regards us with piercing eyes and screams himself breathless. There’s a lovely angry simplicity to the band, an honest emotion of the kind that never goes out of fashion.

They remind me of first album ATV or Mekons circa ‘Never Been in a Riot’. I like them a lot. The singer also spends time off the stage and amongst the small throng watching them, dragging a long microphone cable behind him. I’m always a sucker for this kind of thing.

Every time I see Drop Out Venus I think “This is the best band that I have seen since…” and each time the ‘since’ goes further back in my gig history.

What can I say? Every performance is unique, every performance would be the best thing I’ve seen this year.

Tonight the stand out star is drummer Ursula, here combining phenomenal power and complex rhythms with the not inconsiderable feat of holding a disintegrating drum kit together with whichever hand she can get free.

Guitarist Chris continues to do amazing things whilst also providing support and a focal point for his ever intriguing sister Iva, who is wound as tightly as a spring and who becomes ever more so as the gig progresses.

The band retains their unique ability to create their own hermetic atmosphere around themselves. As they play, the sound of bowling and drinking and a carefree existence just disappears. Drop Out Venus lure you in like Sirens enticing passing sailors on to the rocks.

I have seen tonight’s headliners before, in a big tent at last year’s 1234 Shoreditch festival. At that point I had certain reservations. Twelve months on, these have all disappeared.

Novella play guitar music. Great, chugging layers of guitar music. Their sound is part way between indie jangle and something much more substantial and meaty.

They build up a momentum as their set progresses, and I’d like to think that the bowlers who stop their games and turn to watch them are doing so because of the power of the music and not because the band features three women playing guitars. Their last two songs this evening are phenomenal.

I needed something to clear my head after Drop Out Venus, and Novella certainly do the job. I’m seeing Hollie, Sophy and Suki again in a fortnight and I’m now really looking forward to it.

It’s been a great, sticky summer evening. I’m bowled over.